With the exit of the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX-7 from these shores and the growth of sport-utility vehicles, one could logically argue that the sports coupe market is dead.Don't tell Mitsubishi. Its 3000GT coupe outsold opponents last year, and in order to keep that momentum this year it brought out a high-value model with a 161-horsepower engine, standard 16-inch alloy wheels, large rear spoiler and an AM/FM stereo cassette player for $27,050. At a time when conspicuous consumption is on the out and folks are downsizing their lifestyles, it seems right for Mitsubishi to focus on a 3000GT with less power and front-wheel-drive, rather than the more expensive 3000GT VR-4 with twin-turbo engine and all-wheel drive. This gives the company a product that is priced competitively relative to the current crop of two-seat sports cars from Germany. For those limited few who want the works, the VR-4 is still offered, as is the 3000GT SL that slots between it and the base model. The SL has 218 horsepower. Even in the best of times the sports coupe segment is going to be a small, which is why it is smart to concentrate on this new model. Think of the new base model as a car that gives you a high-performance look without the price. The 3.0-liter, V6 engine has adequate power, especially when coupled with the five-speed manual gearbox. This 3-valve per-cylinder, single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) powerplant won't knock your hat in the creek when you floor it, but its acceleration is plenty peppy, thanks to its low-speed responsiveness. And, let's face it, most of the tire-spinning power of its twin-turbo cousin contributes more to bragging rights than everyday use. This engine has a tendency to buzz a bit when worked hard, and there is some torque steer, or slight pulling to one side or the other, under heavy throttle. The shift linkage is a tad clunky and heavy. This powertrain, however, is most sensible, especially when you factor in fuel economy and insurance costs. The large rear spoiler, which I don't care for, constantly looms in your rear view mirror and makes you think there is always someone in your blind spot. Even though there are two tiny seats in back, this is really just a two-seat vehicle. The seats are fairly supportive, with their pronounced contours, but they inevitably made me feel as if I was sitting uncomfortably close to the windshield header when I had them adjusted for the right leg length. Maybe if I were taller that would not be an issue. Fortunately, the back seat is a good place to plop a briefcase or a sack of groceries. It folds down to expand the cargo capacity, and you might need it if you were going to take a week-long trip with another person. Getting access to the back seat is easy, thanks to very wide doors. Their size makes them a bit unwieldy, but they are practical. Without the VR-4's all-wheel drive, you might think the base 3000GT is a sloppy handler, b ut it is not. At a curb weight of 3,131 pounds it weighs some 600 pounds less, and it feels like it, although it will never be as agile the new BMW Z3 or Porsche Boxster. But this car is really best at grand touring, which is where the GT name comes from. It is not comfortable being flung through turns like a two-seat roadster. It feels more substantial, and is. Price The base price of our test car was $27,050. It had no options. With freight, the sticker price was $27,520. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: If you want a sports coupe with a reasonable price and decent power, the 3000GT is one of the few choices left. It is an even better value this year. Counterpoint: The spoiler looms in your mirror like someone about to pass, and the cockpit is fairly small. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3 -liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: Five-speed WHEELBASE: 97.2 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,131 lbs. BASE PRICE:$27,050 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $27,520 MPG RATING: 19 city, 25 hwy.
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